This is how it usually goes at a party, in line at the grocery store, or during a casual conversation at the farmer’s market…
Innocent passerby: You’re a what? You mean like a newborn photographer?
Me: No, I am a birth photographer. So I photograph babies being BORN.
Innocent passerby: So is there lots of blood? Do you also photograph the V-A-G-I-N-A? (This second question usually asked in a loud whisper.)
The conversation often concludes with someone making a statement like… “Oh wow, well I’d never want you in MY delivery room,” to which I always respond by saying something like… “don’t worry, I won’t show up in your delivery room. Unless you invite me!”
It is half awkward and half amazing to have a job that people are so fascinated and repulsed by. But I love it. And if I am ever second guessing the decision to be a birth photographer, I just look back at some of the birth photos I’ve taken and am reminded that they are powerful, they are important, and they are precious.
Since birth photography is something folks are often unfamiliar with, I thought I’d share some tips and tricks to help you prepare for your birth photography session (read: how to prepare to spend your labor and delivery being photographed).
Your birth photographer will meet with you in advance. Most birth photogs do this in person, some meet with clients multiple times, others set-up a phone meeting. No matter the format, these meetings help us get to know you, and help you feel comfortable around us. The more you share during these meetings, the better we can prepare. This means telling us what you want, what you don’t want (more on this below), a bit about who else will be in the room (more on this below, too), where you plan to deliver, what is important to you during and after your delivery, and any other details you can think of.
Are there specific birth photos you’ve seen and you LOVE? Are there images you can’t stand? Share these with us. I never guarantee a specific shot or composition, but it is always helpful to know what clients want to get out of having a birth photographer with them as they welcome a little one into the world. Some clients want a great photo for a birth announcement, others are really concerned that the grandparents are heavily featured in the photos, where as others have a specific vertical frame ready to be filled with an image captured on birth day (extra points to these clients who actually were so organized they told me this in advance).
When preparing to work with a birth photographer, I’d suggest asking lots of questions about privacy. Obviously birth is a very private experience, and as a birth photographer, I take the privacy of images very seriously (I share all images with clients through unlisted, password protected albums and have a clause in the contract I ask clients to sign which states that no images will be shared publicly without permission).
In order to fully capture a birth, I always tell clients that it is best for me to take lots and lots of photos of everything and then delete images during the editing process. The more freedom I have to photograph, the better images I will get… In order to feel comfortable with the photographer you choose, it is crucial to get very specific about the sharing of images and the privacy of albums so you’re not tempted to censor the photographer while she is capturing you and your family on birth day.
This advice goes for wedding photographers and birth photographers alike: pick someone you like hanging out with. Your birth photographer will be physically with you the moment you welcome a new person into the world. This person will be with your family for long periods of time, they may even interact with doctors or midwives… or run to get ice or hold a leg (this happened to me once). Your birth photographer will need to know when to leave the room and often respond quickly as plans/circumstances change. Pick someone you don’t mind taking a nap on your couch.
It is so important that you choose someone who takes good photos, but also someone you enjoy spending time with and has a good bedside manner. This is the aspect of birth photography that means you may need to interview several folks to be sure their energy jives with what you’d like during such special life moments.
We want to know what is happening as your pregnancy progresses. Email us after appointments with updates as to how things are moving along. Send us texts (or call in the middle of the night) if you think something is about to happen. The more notice, the better. Chat with your birth photographer about how much information and notice she’d like as you near go time.
Say it with me… lots and lots of notice. As a birth photographer, I basically make all plans tentative for two weeks before and two weeks after estimated client due dates. The more notice you can give me, the more time I will have to move things around in my life to be with you and your family during your baby’s birth.
Depending on where you plan to deliver, there will be rules about what can be documented and who can be in the delivery room with you on birth day. Ask questions of your medical team and hospital/birth center in advance (if you’re delivering at home, this is obviously not something you need to think about). Be aware that during flu season, most hospitals limit the number of people in delivery rooms even more severely. (I’ve seen the number as low as three in some hospitals, meaning a birthing mom brought her partner, her doula, and her birth photographer with her into the delivery suite.)
Clients often ask me when they should call me to begin photographing their birth. This answer to this question depends on how quickly things are progressing and what types of photos clients are looking for. I have met clients at their homes and take photos of moms laboring on the kitchen floor over a big yoga ball (and snacked on some lasagna between contractions), and other clients have asked me to arrive after the epidural is in and everyone is comfortable. Some birth photographers limit the number of hours they contract for so this is something else to keep in mind (I don’t limit the amount of time I’m with clients, so I prefer to arrive early and go back to sleep at your house or in my car if progress slows.)
Delivering babies is not the only type of delivery to think about when hiring a birth photographer. Keep the image delivery in mind too – this means images delivered as prints, digital files, in albums, in slideshows and so on. Some photographers will provide a full set of edited images as a download or on a CD where others require the purchase of a specific number of prints or an album. These are important questions to discuss in advance as they can dramatically affect price.
The other important image delivery question to ask is about timeline. As a birth photographer, I’m well aware that folks want to see photos of newborn babies quickly – so I offer a fully edited preview set of images within days of birth and then a larger fully edited set of images several weeks later. Get the image delivery timeline in writing (and respect the amount of time it takes to edit images – lots).
In the end, you’ll likely not even know your birth photographer is in the room with you since you’ll be working hard to deliver your new baby. (I have asked all birth clients I’ve worked with if they noticed me in the room or taking photos, and ever single one has told me that she literally forgot I was there.)
By helping to prepare your birth photographer in advance, you’ll end up with great photos (and a cute baby too). Feel free to get in touch if you have questions about birth photography — I love fan mail.
Emily Goodstein is a native Washingtonian, sweatpants enthusiast, and a birth story photographer. She enjoys baked goods, naps, and polka dots, too. Find out what she had for breakfast by following her on Twitter, and keep up with her adventures inside the Beltway and beyond on her blog, Wild and Crazy Pearl.